Last month, Ra’s al Ghul leveled Lady Shiva’s childhood home using alien technology – technology that he threatened to use to harm the Outsiders should they try to interfere with his plans. Naturally, the Outsiders are going to join together to stop him, right? Right? Well, eventually, yeah… But for this issue, they’re going to determine the best approach of attack.

The Story

If you’re like me, then you probably expected this issue to run hard and heavy into action after the events of Batman & the Outsiders #12. So, the fact that this chapter does the complete opposite of that is a little disappointing. Thankfully, Hill provides a reason for the team’s passiveness that makes complete sense, and that helps excuse what would otherwise appear to be an error in judgment concerning pacing and momentum.

But if the Outsiders don’t go after Ra’s al Ghul in this issue, then what do they do? Well, they regroup and devise a plan. Sound boring? For some readers, sure, but I didn’t mind the approach. Batman isn’t the rush-in guns-a-blazing kind of guy. He’s a tactician – as is Ra’s al Ghul – and he knows that for the safety of innocent lives, he needs to approach this situation carefully.

This decision actually leads to an interesting conversation between Batman and Black Lightning. While Batman is in his head and trying to process the best way to move forward, Jefferson assumes he’s not sharing his thoughts because Bruce doesn’t trust him. The reality is that Batman doesn’t speak if he doesn’t feel he has something of value to say. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not an earth-shattering conversation, but it is executed well. Oh, did I mention that Martian Manhunter makes an appearance? Because he does!

Most of the excitement that comes from this issue stems from Shiva, Katana, Cass, and Duke. While Cassandra and Duke are training, Shiva and Katana discuss Shiva’s intentions, what’s best for the kids, and how they should approach Ra’s. I like how Hill writes Shiva because he gets her complexity. Like Katana, Shiva definitely has her own sense of honor. While Katana falls more on the side of good, Shiva definitely falls on the side of bad… but there are times where she undoubtedly does good. Let’s not forget that Batman, himself, has not only trained with Shiva in the past, but he’s had members of the bat family train with her as well.

Anyway, staying true to her brand, Shiva feels that Batman isn’t fully utilizing the potential of Duke and Cassandra. She also feels that to beat Ra’s, they’ll need to reach their potential, otherwise, the battle is a lost cause. Shiva’s intention isn’t to force their hands, but to merely give them the choice to decide what’s best, rather than allowing Batman to make the choice for them… And I kind of agree with her. Is she using manipulation here? Yes, but I still don’t think she’s wrong in stating that they have a right to choose. That also doesn’t mean that I think she’s completely right either.

Regardless, Katana shares Shiva’s stance and agrees to a duel to determine if she will allow Shiva to make her offer to the kids, or if she will continue to uphold Batman’s wishes. Now, we don’t get to see the fight between Shiva and Katana – which is a tragedy – but we do see the aftermath. The results definitely create an interesting outcome and end with Shiva claiming that Duke and Cassandra aren’t the only ones who aren’t meeting their full potential because of Batman, but that Katana is as well…

The issue doesn’t offer much up in the way of plot progression, but it does touch on the characters and their mindset, which is appreciated. Hill is also clearly laying down more foundation which will pay off in a future issue – we’ve come to not only expect this from him, but trust him in delivering as well. The only question I want to know is… Where in the hell is Sofia?

 

The Art

Gleb Melnikov delivers the art for this issue, and it is just ok. I’ve enjoyed his work on Angel so far, but he didn’t seem to grasp the characters or tone here, and it made the book feel…off. I think my opinion stems mostly from his interpretation of the characters. There appeared to be inconsistencies within each of their appearances, and their characterization didn’t appear to be executed well from a visual standpoint. Shiva and Katana – two of the most stoic characters in the DC universe – failed to appear stoic at all. In fact, there’s a panel when Shiva is more “Veronica Lodge” than “dangerous assassin.”

And, yes, you might say I’m nitpicking, but I feel there are many examples where the emoting fails to match the character. There are too many instances where the characters look way too happy considering the complexity of their current circumstances. Considering the darkness that’s ever-present in Angel, I did not expect that from Melnikov.

Granted, I do think that Melnikov has more of a range than I originally expected. While I prepared myself for a darker, grittier take on this book, we got the opposite. That alone makes me wonder how well Melnikov might do with a title that’s a little more upbeat and fun featuring teenagers… You know, just teens that aren’t Cassandra or Duke.

Anyway, the art is good, but not great, and I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding the characters, as well as a “miscasting” of him for this book, than a lack of skill. He’s clearly talented. Melnikov is assisted by Ivan Plascencia, who delivers the colors, and that alone helps maintain a form of consistency for the title. Had it not been for Plascencia, I fear the change in art would have been even more noticeable, and a further detriment to the book.

Recommended if:

  • You want to see Lady Shiva’s take on the current situation.
  • You’re a fan of Martian Manhunter.
  • Hill and team haven’t let you down yet!

Overall

Without giving anything away, I will say that the key theme of this issue is fulfilling one’s potential. It’s what Shiva is seeking to do with Cass, Duke, and possibly Katana. It’s what Ra’s is striving to do with the alien technology he’s procured. And it’s even what Batman is hoping to do with Black Lightning based on the end of this issue. The question is who is going about it the right way, and what will be the consequences of each of their paths. This theme, alone, helps make this issue a solid read, and while we may not get the punch we were hoping for, we’re treated with the foundation of new character threads that create an added layer of complexity. This is undoubtedly a set-up for a future issue, and it will make the payoff that much greater! I just hope Dexter Soy returns to art duties by the time we reach that moment.

SCORE: 6.5/10